Pregame Party, Vol. II: Florida Gulf Coast v. Georgetown

Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

Wherein we try to parse the Xs and Os.

It's finally game day! Five days after Selection Sunday, well after most NCAA Tournament teams have begun play, your fighting Georgetown Hoyas take the court Friday night against the upstart Florida Gulf Coast Eagles. After rolling out part one of this game preview, we're ready to take a look at what to expect on the court tonight.

Numbers never lie? Last year, Georgetown faced a Belmont team that the stat geeks loved. But closer inspection called into question some of the Bruins' resume. They had lost a close one at Duke, had lost a not-so-close one at Memphis, had played a bunch close games, mostly wins, against other top-100 opponents, and had mostly blown out a bunch of scrubs. Focusing just on the good opponents, Belmont's resume became much weaker. Whether that presaged the Hoyas' 15-point victory over the Bruins in the NCAA Tournament, I don't know.

So, now preparing to face FGCU, what matters? What does FGCU's 24-point home win over East Tennessee State (No. 322 in Ken Pomeroy's rankings) really tell you? What about its 10-point loss at that same ETSU squad? What about repeated blemishes, like losses both home and away against Lipscomb (No. 304)? FGCU's record is certainly a bit more mixed than Belmont's was last year, but it raises similar questions.

In addition to looking FGCU's full resume, I looked mostly at the Eagles' nine games against better-than-average teams (all rankings per KenPom): VCU (22); Miami (14); Duke (6); St. John's (98); Loyola Md. (120); Iowa State (33); and Mercer (118; three times). These games included four wins (Miami, Loyola, and Mercer twice) and five losses, as well as three home games (Miami, Loyola, and Mercer once) and six on the road. (Note: in a similar exercise, the Wizards at Hoya Prospectus found that FGCU's odds of an upset shrunk by a few critical percentage points once you focus just on both teams' top-100 opponents.)

When Florida Gulf Coast Has the Ball.

  • Eagles' strength: spacing and pushing the pace. FGCU pushes the ball in transition, seeking early scoring opportunities by penetrating, filling lanes, and using perimeter shooters to space the floor. Sophomore point guard Brett Comer often leads the charge up the floor, but leading scorers Sherwood Brown and Bernard Thompson are equally dangerous from the wings. The Eagles use that fast pace to get into the middle of the defense, where they shoot over 52 percent from two-point range, one of the top marks in the country. Against their nine "good" foes, that number has sunk a bit, to 49 percent. Against a Georgetown team that has disrupted opponents' spacing all season long and has given up just 41 percent for two-pointers, expect that number to shrink further.
  • Hoyas' strength: clogging driving and passing lanes. Georgetown's task is not necessarily to slow down the Eagles. The Hoyas have won fast games against fast teams (UCLA, the first St. John's game, Longwood, DePaul), while FGCU has won plenty of slow-paced games (albeit against lousy competition). Whatever the pace, Georgetown must cut off early penetration by Comer and deny open transition looks for Brown and Thompson. Doing so may result in a contested FGCU shot, which the Hoyas will gladly accept, or a reset of the Eagle offense, which in turn would slow the game down to Georgetown's pace.
  • Three things to watch:
    • The battle for the paint. Whether Georgetown chooses to match up man-to-man or mix in a zone, keeping the Eagles out of the lane is a must. FGCU is not necessarily a powerful team, as its bigs tend toward the slimmer end of the spectrum. But, like a better-shooting, less-talented Marquette team, the Eagles thrive on getting the ball into the middle of the floor to either take a high-percentage shot or kick to an open teammate. For their part, the Hoyas have kept opponents out of the middle all season, forcing opponents into long, contested jumpers.
    • Three pointers or, the danger of small sample sizes. You've heard this story before. NCAA Tournament underdog unleashes three-point barrage to unseat high seed, fitting neatly into the common metaphor: David slaying Goliath. At first glance, FGCU looks like it fits the profile: three Eagles, including their stretch-four Chase Fieler, shoot at least 37 percent from three. But as a whole, the Eagles shoot just 33 percent from distance, ranking 54th of the 68 tournament teams in that category. It only takes one game, and the Eagles shoot the three often enough (nearly 20 three-pointers attempted per game, a number inflated by their fast pace) that a few extra makes could be dangerous, but the odds are against it Friday.
    • Turnovers and pressure. FGCU's offense has two main weaknesses. First, unsurprising for a team with no true post players, the Eagles' don't draw a ton of fouls. Second, and much more noticeable, the Eagles commit a lot of turnovers, on nearly 21 percent of possessions. In the ten FGCU losses, that number rises to 24.3 percent. In the nine games against "good opponents," that number gets worse, spiking to 25 percent, a figure that would place the Eagles near the bottom of the country nationally. For all the mention of FGCU's tendency to force turnovers on defense and commit them on offense, little mention has been made of Georgetown's ball hawking of late: the Hoyas rank 42nd in the country in forcing turnovers, six spots ahead of Friday's opponent. So will the Hoyas sit back in a two-three zone, clogging the passing lanes? Will Georgetown extend pressure full-court, particularly out of dead balls?

    When Georgetown Has the Ball.

    • Hoyas' strength: pounding the paint. FGCU has a small and skinny front line, as two of three Eagle regular "posts" have the same dimensions as Otto Porter, while the third, Eric McKnight, is just an inch taller and a few pounds heavier. Combine that with undersized wings, and the Eagles struggle to control opponents inside the arc, yielding a pedestrian 47 percent two-point field goal defense. Against "good" opponents, that number has risen above 49 percent, a very poor number. Your Hoyas shoot above 50 percent from two, whether those shots are taken by a Georgetown big man or by a cutting guards.
    • Eagles' strength: forcing turnovers. All those FGCU guards are bad for protecting the lane but good for turning the ball over, which the Eagles do on over 22 percent of opponents' possessions. Thompson is particularly dangerous, as he racks up nearly 3 steals per game, while Comer also is a pest. FGCU has managed to turn over the "good" opponents as well, making Eagles a threat to a Georgetown team that commits turnovers on more than 20 percent of possessions. Protecting the ball will be imperative Friday night.
    • Three things to watch:
      • Offensive rebounds. Unsurprisingly, given its small front line, Florida Gulf Coast's main defensive weakness is on the boards. The Eagles allow second chances on nearly one-third of opposing misses, a below-average number. In their nine games against "good" opponents, the Eagles were even more generous, giving up more than 37 percent of opponents' missed shots as offensive rebounds, which would make FGCU among the worst teams in the country in that category. Georgetown hasn't exactly pounded the offensive glass, grabbing just over 30 percent of its own misses on the season, but has been better in its last 10 games, grabbing more than one-third of rebounds on the offensive ends. Heading to the glass may open up transition opportunities for the Eagles, but may also yield easy second chances for the Hoyas.
      • Go big or go small? The first three bullets all contribute to a lineup choice. Put most broadly, a bigger lineup, which generally features Porter at small forward, makes Georgetown more turnover-prone but better at offensive rebounding. Smaller, three-guard lineups allow for better shooting from distance, but will a larger lineup be able to overpower the Eagle front line?
      • Changing looks. All of the above will lead to a chess match between FGCU coach Andy Enfield and our own JTIII. When the Hoyas go big, the Eagles may go zone, keeping the ball out of the lane and forcing Georgetown to stretch the zone from the outside. When Georgetown uses a three-guard arrangement, FGCU may go man-to-man, both to cut off perimeter opportunities and to better pressure the ball and force turnovers. On the other end of the floor, a big lineup may allow the Hoyas to pack the paint even further but may leave them vulnerable on the perimeter, where Fieler can step out against Nate Lubick or any other big who guards him.

    Prediction. Last week, Mrs. OTH asked whether a brief respite from cynicism, delusion, and .gifs could be permitted so what we could attend a play at a local theater. She suggested Friday night, March 22, for which cheap tickets were available but going fast. I accepted without thinking much of the date. The gods chortled at such ignorance, slotting the Hoyas on the same 22nd then, in defiance of the Duke-CBS cabal that should have ensured that the Blue Devils played in prime time while the Hoyas took the court during the day, instead slotted the Hoyas for 5:50 local time. Now, the game will inch dangerously close (particularly with the extra-long tournament TV timeouts) to 8:00 curtain time. Being truly my better half, Mrs. OTH insisted hat she would rather miss the pre-intermission portion of the sweet words of Billy Shakespeare than miss one sweet elbow jumper by Otto Porter, who probably could recite Measure for Measure while playing all 40 minutes.

    That apology to the gods out of the way, I think everyone should be concerned about Friday night, but not worried. Florida Gulf Coast has some of the hallmarks of a Cinderella, particularly in forcing lots of turnovers and shooting the ball relatively efficiently. But the Eagles have plenty of weaknesses as well, including a lack of size and bulk, rim protection, rebounding, and ball protection. In short, their statistical profile, even with that famed upset of Miami, puts them somewhere below Rutgers and Seton Hall, and above South Florida. That last reference may send a shiver up Hoya fans' spines, along with panic-stricken thoughts of disappointing results in post-seasons gone by.

    But those years are past, belonging to teams that also have departed. This team has spent the better part of three months focusing on nothing more than the game in front of it, forging an identity that largely has allowed it to avoid letdowns. Plenty of media coverage has brought Florida Gulf Coast, which otherwise might have been an anonymous first round opponent, to the Hoyas' attention. There may be rough patches Friday night where a slew of turnovers fuels an Eagle spurt, but overall Georgetown should have too much size, too much speed, too much Otto, and too much defense. Georgetown 66, Florida Gulf Coast 56.

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